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REAL NRL: Players’ safety paramount as season cancelled

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Despite having high hopes of finishing 2021 on a bright note, Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) officials made the tough call to cancel the season.

After consultation with all Denton Engineering Cup clubs, at a meeting on Thursday 2 September, the board decided not to progress any further with the first and reserve grade competitions, as well as the under-19s.

That means the Maitland Pickers, Northern Hawks and South Newcastle Lions were declared minor premiers in their respective divisions.

“In the end, it was a unanimous outcome – taking into consideration a variety of factors, from the competing organisations to the current NSW Government health advice, the financial implications of continuing and, most importantly, player welfare,” Real NRL chairman John Crooks said.

“While it is disappointing the competition cannot be completed, after such a successful and competitive season, we had to take in to account many issues.

“But, player welfare was paramount in our decision-making process.

“It wouldn’t have been fair asking them to play after an extended period on the sidelines, the possibility of injury after such a long lay-off was too high, plus the risk factors associated with the contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

“The chances of gaining approval for teams to train together, let alone play against each other, was highly unlikely, too.

“On top of that, the potential threat of transmitting the disease between players in close contact is also one we cannot take.

“So, the final series will not go ahead.”

The new-look Real NRL began with a ton of promise, with the likes of Central Coast outfits, The Entrance Tigers and Wyong Roos, joining the fold in 2021.

Throw defending premiers Cessnock Goannas and 2020 President’s Cup champions Maitland into the mix, along with the emergence of the Central Newcastle Butcher Boys, Macquarie Scorpions and Western Suburbs Rosellas as genuine premiership forces, and the profile of the competition was at an all-time high this year.

The Kurri Kurri Bulldogs, Lakes United Seagulls and South Newcastle displayed glimpses of potential, too.

“This season has been one of the best in recent times,” Crooks said.

“The only downside, without the opportunity to contest the final series, is we will not have a grand final winner and will leave the Denton Engineering Cup trophy with an asterisk for 2021.

“However, I want to congratulate all clubs and players on their performance.

“Under the circumstances, the efforts of everyone involved in managing a club and team have been outstanding.

“Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League is proud of you all – and we look forward to 2022, which already looks extremely promising.

“I’d also like to acknowledge our sponsors, particularly the major ones Tooheys and Denton Engineering, as well as A Plus Contracting who looked after our representative squads.

“This year’s competition has certainly been one to remember.

“The standard of the games was extremely high, supporter numbers at matches were great, and our following in the media, including social and BarTV, was exceptional.

“We can only see this growing in 2022.”

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